St Barnabas, 11th May 2014
Some of the things I enjoy watching on the television are the property programmes like Escape to the Country or Location, Location, Location. I like to see inside houses and see how people have created them to make it home. Perhaps it is because I am nosey! Very often the potential buyers will go inside and be knocked over by the Wow factor.
When we see a beautiful sunset or colourful rainbow, the waves crashing upon the rocks, we can exclaim WOW!
We can all think of those Wow moments – on a personal level I can remember saying wow when I saw my daughter in her wedding dress, holding my grandchildren when they were first born. I remember clearly going upon the Hoe and seeing the eclipse of the sun, experiencing the darkness sweeping along the sea was truly memorable and certainly a wow factor. Of course not forgetting what God has done in my life and how He has supported me through wonderful times like that and the sad times too. Wow what an amazing God!
I am sure you can remember the wow factors in your own lives especially when you look back over your life.
Over these last few weeks we have been listening to a series on Sharing the Good News in preparation for our Mission week at the end of this month. We have heard about sharing the good news by telling others, by being united/what brand are we as a Church and last week we heard about the early church being bold and courageous with the help of Holy Spirit. This week we are to hear about sharing the good news by praying together.
Just to recap, Peter and John had just had their first head-on collision with the Sanhedrin, a confrontation brought about by the healing of a lame man. When the people saw the former cripple walking, leaping and praising God, they mobbed Peter and John and Peter seized the opportunity to preach Christ to them.
Do we seize opportunities that the Lord has given to us to witness Christ, on the bus, at work to our family and friends? Norman Cates shared the humorous story of a man who prayed this prayer every morning:
“Lord, if you want me to witness to someone today, please give me a sign to show me who it is.” One day he found himself on a bus when a big, burly man sat next to him. The bus was nearly empty but this man sat next to our praying friend. The timid Christian anxiously waited for his stop so he could exit the bus. But before he could get very nervous about the man next to him, the big guy burst into tears and began to weep. He then cried out with a loud voice, “I need to be saved. I’m a lost sinner and I need the Lord. Won’t somebody tell me how to be saved?” He turned to the Christian and pleaded, “Can you show me how to be saved?” The believer immediately bowed his head and prayed, “Lord, is this a sign?”
Are you looking for a “sign” to start witnessing?
Well Peter never turned down an opportunity to witness after he was given the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. He told the people that Jesus had been crucified, had been raised from the grave and was truly both Lord and Christ to save us from our sins and give us eternal life. In the beginning of Acts 4 we see that the priests and Sadducees angered by Peter’s talk of resurrection, grabbed him, along with John, and threw them both in prison.
The next day the Sanhedrin, after threatening Peter and John, commanded them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. But what did Peter and John say to that? Verse 19. “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard”. After further threats, they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them because all the people were praising God for what had happened. Immediately the two disciples returned to the gathered believers and related the story.
What would have been our reaction at our Church I wonder, if that had happened to us here and we had been told to keep quiet, what would we as a church have done? Set up a petition or meeting with local people, contacted to our local MP (perhaps not!), reported to the media? Written a letter to David Cameron?
What was the reaction of the young church when Peter and John had returned? Did they try to establish a dialogue with the Sanhedrin or organise a protest march against religious discrimination? They didn’t moan about what had happened. They didn’t plan revenge against the Sanhedrin, they didn’t say it was unfair, no this young body of believers, faced with its first opposition, raised their voices together to God in prayer and praise.
They acknowledged God as Sovereign Lord, they acknowledged him as creator of heaven and earth and the sea and everything in them.
What happened when the church prayed is recorded and what we have heard this morning in Acts 4:31, “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” Wow!!
The place was shaken. This expression symbolises God’s active presence. A similar phrase occurs in Acts 16: 26. In Philippi, Paul and Silas had been beaten and thrown into prison and their feet were fastened in stocks. At midnight those two missionaries began to pray and sing hymns and “suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the doors flew open and everybody’s chains came loose”. Wow!! Again!
This was the manifestation of God’s presence, declaring that He was there and that He was acting. Isn’t God present where two or three are gathered in His name (Matthew 18: 20)? That is true but God also can be present without our knowledge. At Bethel, after seeing the manifestation of God in the angels ascending and descending on a ladder stretching from earth to heaven, Jacob said, “Surely the Lord was in this place and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:16)
That could be the theme song of many a Sunday morning worship service!!
We do always have the presence of God because that is what He promises. What we do not always have, however, is the awareness of His presence. An American minister Vance Havner used to say that when we preachers look out up on our small remnant and quote “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” we usually are more conscious of the absence of the people than the presence of the Lord. We said this morning, “The Lord is here, His Spirit is with us”. Do we just read it from the service card as routine? Do you really acknowledge that, because that is His word, His promise, even if you perhaps don’t particularly feel it? But it is not down to our emotions or our feelings. It is not down to a particular type of service, it is not down to the songs or hymns, the sermon, God is here in our midst. Isn’t that a Wow factor?
We have the freedom to praise Him and acknowledge Him and we should expect great things even though we don’t always feel like it. If we expect little, we get little, if we expect great things then we will get great things.
God’s presence is often not real to us. We sometimes speak of Him as though He were absent. We read in our Gospel reading John 14: 15-31 how Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to those who love Him and obey what He commands. Verse 23 is one of my favourite verses in the Bible. Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him and WE will come to him (not only Jesus, not only God, but together both Father and Son) and make our home with him.” This is the Holy Spirit and this is powerful stuff! Another Wow!
When you come to Christ, repent and surrender your life sincerely to Him, love Him and obey Him, He and God together will make their home with you. Wow! What a promise!
So when you don’t particularly feel the presence of God in your life, remember that promise and give thanks to Him and see what happens!
When the church abandons itself to prayer, the presence of God is perceived. Suddenly we know He is there, working, moving, answering because together we are remembering His promises and not relying on our feelings. Peter and John knew that, Paul and Silas knew that. Despite what they were going through, they prayed and praised God and both places where they were shaken!
That is enough. It is enough to know He is on the scene. Let the Sanhedrin rant and rave; let them threaten, let them condemn. God is with us and that is enough. In the face of insurmountable difficulties, the assurance of His presence is sufficient
In extraordinary times God does extraordinary things but He is just as much in the ordinary. The God who raised Jesus His Son from the grave is the same God who raises the sun every morning.
In Acts 4: 24 it says the people “raised their voices together in prayer to God” This is an eloquent statement of the church’s oneness both in their action and their motive. It was not just the apostles who prayed. They all prayed. Here was a group of believers who gathered in one place to do one thing with one motive. This is a testimony to united prayer.
While of course there is power in the prayers of one person – we know how often Jesus used to go away on His own to pray to His Father – the Bible indicates there is something special about united prayer. We heard earlier the verse about when two or three are gathered together. In praying together, the church is in one accord.
That is the kind of praying that shakes a place – when God’s people come together with one heart to make Jesus king. We know our concerns here about just general housekeeping, maintaining a big old building, concerns about our financial struggles and how are we going to pay our parochial share and our bills, our concerns about our numbers, where are any new people, what can we do? The harvest is ripe but the labourers are few. Our own personal concerns and when are we going to see our family and friends saved? When all our different concerns are set aside and our hearts flow into one main stream, that’s when the presence of God is manifested and people know God is in control.
Praying together is powerful, and the only way that we as a church body are going to see the power of God come, is through prayer. Here is a quote from a Dr AC Dixon “a church that works without prayer may have a lot of activity, but it will exhibit very little spiritual power. When we rely on organization, we get what organization can do, when we rely on education, we get what education can do, but when we rely on prayer we get what God can do.”
When preparing this sermon I was thinking about how much practically we pray and praise as a Church together. We pray on a Sunday morning, we pray at the beginning and end of a gift group, we pray at the start and end of a PCC and so on. I am sure we pray personally of course. Those of you who are older and physically cannot do any of the practical jobs in the Church, you can do the most important thing and that is to pray for us as a Church and our community. Do we remember to pray with our Parish Prayer Cycle each day for our Church members and streets in the parishes. Perhaps we ought to think about prayer and praise more at the beginning of groups and meetings and see where the Lord leads us, He will give us the time we need afterwards I am sure. Sometimes prayer is just tagged on the end when we are tired.
God is looking for churches today that have all of the ingredients of the early church. If this church was not here what would people say that they miss? Do they even know that we are here? Think about that for just a moment.
- What kind of an influence do we have in the community?
- If the church was not here this morning why would you miss it?
Take a moment to think about your response …
If we pray together we can expect a powerful influence not only in the community but in our own families and the lives that we are around each and every day. God will not bring new people into a church that cannot disciple them into mature Christians. So why not join us tomorrow evening to pray together with our fellow Christians from five other Churches of different denominations in preparation for our Hope 2014 mission in Devonport/Stoke. Don’t feel uncomfortable if you cannot pray out loud, it doesn’t matter, just come, be still and experience His wonderful presence and see if we can make the place shake!
The early church had answered prayer, they were filled with Holy Spirit, they had powerful preaching. It has been said preachers make Churches, but Churches make preachers. How often do you pray for Rev Tim and Lynda as they prepare sermons each week, for Tim in his every day ministry for two Churches and the thousands of people in the parishes? Most times up against pressure of time and sometimes up against very difficult situations. The early Church had different situations to what we face today but they were unified, they prayed and praised God together and as a result of all of these things, they made an impact on the communities around them and people’s lives were transformed.
We want to make an impact on our communities in the Devonport/Stoke Hope 2014, and especially for us in this community here. We want people to say – Wow, who is this Jesus that everyone is talking about?
We need the kind of praying that shakes a place – when God’s people come together with one heart to make Jesus King?
At the end of our Mission week at Pentecost are we going to be able to say Wow! Thank you Lord for transformed lives? What are we going to do about it? Amen.